By ERIN SNELGROVE
ELLENSBURG -- When Ivana Trottman was 7, her mother died of breast cancer.
At 16, her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
And now, at 19, the Central Washington University student is living with multiple sclerosis.
"I have to take what I have and deal with it the best that I can," said Trottman, a Tacoma native. "Everything happens for a reason. I still find a way to smile."
It was that determination and can-do attitude that got Trottman into the Student Transitions & Academic Resources program at Central.
STAR is designed for people like Trottman, who, because of circumstances beyond their control, did poorly in high school and would not have otherwise been accepted into college.
"She is somebody who has amazing optimism considering her loss," said Carolyn Thurston, who directs the program. "She has a lot of courage and a lot of faith."
Trottman said her father had trouble adjusting to her mother's death. He remarried again, twice.
Depressed, Trottman escaped by watching baseball on television. At school, her motivation was further drained by an English teacher, who she felt treated her unfairly.
Meanwhile, an already uneasy relationship with her second stepmother worsened after her father became ill. To ease the stress, Trottman moved in with an aunt and uncle when she was a junior. The new living situation was better, but still troublesome at times, Trottman said.
She began applying herself as an upperclassman, but her efforts yielded limited success. She graduated with a 2.7 grade-point average.
"I'm not dumb, but I didn't try as hard in high school as I should have," Trottman said. "Homework wasn't really my thing. It was a joke."
Trottman applied to Central, where she was conditionally accepted through the STAR program. She soon found herself learning where different services were on campus, such as financial aid and admissions. She took a 10-week course covering a wide range of subjects intended to help her be a better student, including note taking and ways to improve on tests.
She also began meeting regularly with Thurston, to talk about grades and her class load.
"Carolyn is kind of like a mom," Trottman said. "She only wants the best for us. She's really straightforward and she doesn't dance around things. She tells it like it is, and I really appreciate that."
Trottman said her motto in life is simple: Do what's expected of you when no one is looking. And so she does.
She became involved in the Black Student Union and Cross-Cultural Leadership. She also began working for the Center for Excellence in Leadership on campus, helping various clubs and organizations develop leaders within their ranks.
None of this would have been possible without the STAR program, which gave her the confidence to believe in herself, Trottman said.
"I'd be a mediocre student without this program," said Trottman, who is now a sophomore. "Without Carolyn, I would have never taken the Emerging Leaders class and I wouldn't have the job I have."
Her boss, Jesse Nelson, director of the center, says Trottman has tremendous energy and a zeal for life.
"Her optimism and energy will take her to great places," he said. "I'm hopeful her university experience will help her achieve some personal clarity, (to find) what endeavors in her life will bring her the most fulfillment and the most joy."
Although the teenager had some initial difficulty adjusting to college life, Thurston said Trottman has found solid footing and shows promise in a career in student affairs.
"I'm sure she'll go on to the masters level," Thurston said. "I think she's a perfect fit for that. ... Her biggest challenge will be trying to balance all of her commitments and her extracurricular activities, but I think she'll be able to do it."
Last February, Trottman began experiencing odd symptoms. Her vision was blurry and she had a tingling sensation starting in her feet and spreading to her waist. An ophthalmologist diagnosed her with an eye disorder that explained her vision problems. But Trottman couldn't shake the feeling that something else was wrong.
She Googled her symptoms. When she read about multiple sclerosis, she knew that's what she had, and she let herself cry. A doctor later confirmed her diagnosis.
Although initially discouraged, Trottman said her spirits lifted after visiting someone with the disease. Talking with him and seeing how he lived a full life gave her hope. Further strength came from remembering how courageous her mother had been in her fight against cancer.
"I won't let it bring me down," said Trottman, who hasn't exhibited symptoms for about a year. "If I spend too much time crying, I'm not bettering myself. ... I take this one day at a time, one week at a time."
Trottman is now earning a 3.0 grade-point average, and she's continued to involve herself in numerous clubs and leadership opportunities.
"Now I know better people, encouraging people," she said. "I get encouragement from people who barely know me. I see Central as a home in that way."